Fresh Thai/Vietnamese Spring Rolls: Food Obsessions of Expatriates

by Anne Evans

Despite my obsession with baking, my breakfast/lunch has for many years been a “take out” box of raw Thai/Vietnamese spring rolls with no sauce. (I became addicted to these years ago when my husband and I gave up carbs and starches because of his health issues).  

I admit, I became obsessed with finding these spring rolls at each stop on our cross-country journeys from CA to UT to FL … and then finally Grand Cayman – and I was always successful in the US! These are not your standard Americanized Asian fried spring roll. They are instead, a Thai/Vietnamese rendition, best described as a bite-sized salad with a slice of fish and/or avocado, held together within a paper-thin wrapper made of (gluten free) rice or tapioca flour.

What are the requirements for The Perfect Spring Roll? I am glad you asked.

  1. The filling must contain shredded lettuce, freshly chopped herbs such as Thai basil and mint, julienned carrots, and avocado; julienned cucumber is optional. Sometimes shredded raw cabbage is added, I appreciate a little, however not too much as it imparts a rough texture that tends to disrupt the integrity of the wrapper. Sometimes rice noodles are included as part of the filling, but I think that’s too much starch.
  2. Either a slice of raw sashimi-grade tuna, raw sashimi-grade salmon, half a butterflied piece of cooked shrimp or a generous extra slice of avocado is incorporated.
  3. A preferably tapioca (rather than rice flour) wrapper that’s been soaked in water before roll assembly (just long enough to make it barely pliable — but not so long that it disintegrates during/after the roll is assembled) surrounds all the above ingredients
  4. Sauces should never be included within the roll
  5. Wasabi should be available to substitute for the packets of overly sweet chili sauce that are generally included in the packaged rolls (or, in a pinch, tabasco sauce).

Honestly, I could provide an assessment of the best Spring Rolls from California to Utah, and in every city that we passed through on our way to and including our extended stays in Florida — and then even in our current home on Grand Cayman.

Grand Cayman Island: Spring Roll “Desert”

Alas, Grand Cayman is a Spring Roll “Food Desert.” I initially found a rendition at our nearby (otherwise high quality) Grocery Store, and I tried to adapt to/tolerate them. My Description: meager in quantity, way too much cabbage, poorly formed, inadequate variety of and poor-quality ingredients, horribly overpriced. I gave up.

And then a miracle happened: I discovered that one of the grocery stores on Grand Cayman sold the tapioca wraps! Heck, I knew the technique for making the Spring Rolls, I just needed quality wrappers!! Problem solved!!! So now for my daily breakfast and lunch I create fresh “Anne’s Freshly Made Spring Rolls” that incorporate the appropriate fresh greens and any protein leftovers from dinner into my customized creations. (Anyone want  to buy and commercialize my Spring Roll Creations???)

An added bonus, no more environmentally unfriendly take-out single-use plastic container wastage.

Why have I spent years chasing after the “perfect” Spring Roll? I suppose the reason I care is that I’m a baker who pays great attention to detail – and the perfect spring roll requires that great attention to detail.

My Message: If you miss a food from your prior home and cannot find it in your new location as an Expat – if you look hard enough, you can figure out how to make it yourself!

If ai cannot solve a problem by baking a cookie, I cannot deal with it


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